What I Learned From Traveling The World For 11 Weeks With My Wife

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What I Learned From Traveling The World For 11 Weeks With My Wife

What I Learned From Traveling The World For 11 Weeks With My Wife

We just got home, and I want to share what I learned from traveling the world for the last 11 weeks. My wife and I left home November 21 and arrived home February 7. A lot happened in that time, and there are definitely things we’d do differently. Here are some lessons learned along the way to make long-term traveling simpler the next time around.

Pack Less, Do Laundry More

First, we’d totally pack less. It’s easy to fill your suitcase up to the 50 lb / 23 kg limit, since that’s what the airline allows you to take. You’ll wind up over-packing. Instead, plan to do laundry. Washing underwear and socks in the hotel bathroom and hanging them to dry is really easy. Shirts and pants or any nice clothes take more effort, but you can find a laundromat. Also, when you find a cheap place to do laundry, do it. Even if you aren’t at the breaking point, do laundry. We passed up super cheap laundry one day, thinking we didn’t really need it. In a different country 3 days later, when we really did need it, we paid 3x more.

The other problem with packing your suitcase full at the start of a long trip is that you will acquire things along the way. We bought a Christmas present to bring home for my mother-in-law and presents for 2 nephews with birthdays coming up. Those had to go in my carry-on backpack for the next 5 weeks, since we couldn’t add anything to our checked bags. Doing it again, I’d factor in the weight of what I think we are likely to buy during the trip and add that at the beginning.

Buy The Things You Need Before You Need Them

Imagine arriving to a touristy beach town without sunblock. You’re going to pay a lot for it. Buy the things you need before you need them, because it’s usually cheaper elsewhere. Don’t wind up in “we need this now” with only 1 shop around. This applies to things like toiletries, batteries if your camera needs them, etc. For our flight home, we passed through Lima. We found out an hour before leaving for the airport that Peru requires not only a mask but also a face shield. We bought uncomfortable face shields that cost $15 each, because we didn’t have time to check our options. Plan ahead and buy when it’s cheaper.

What I Learned From Traveling The World For 11 Weeks With My Wife

Stay In 1 Season / Climate If You Can

You can also pack a lot less if you stay within 1 season. Here’s what I mean. We visited the beach in Mexico and packed flip-flops, swimsuits, and snorkels. From Mexico, we went to Turkey, and Cappadocia was super cold. We needed coats, hats, and gloves during the cold morning of our hot air balloon flight. Needing to pack for multiple climates meant bringing extra stuff for beach, cold, and in between. If we did it again, we’d stay within 1 climate / 1 type of season to reduce what things we needed to pack.

Don’t Book Anything Far In Advance

Especially during COVID travel, don’t book anything far in advance. It’s tempting when you see a good deal (and airlines have become more flexible), but booking a flight far in advance just increases the chances it will get changed or canceled. Now, anything you booked in line with that, such as other flights or excursions, will need to be changed. If you’re thinking about a long-term trip, plan 1 country or 1 week ahead. When you show up at passport control, be able to prove when/how you’re leaving that country. Nothing beyond that is worth booking, because it can & will change. Spending your vacation waiting on hold with the airline to discuss flight changes is annoying.

What I Learned From Traveling The World For 11 Weeks With My Wife
Hilton Addis Ababa was very lively on Christmas Day

What I Learned From Traveling the World – Plan Around Holidays

Sometimes, going to a country for a big holiday is the whole reason for a trip. Other times, being there for a holiday completely ruins your trip. We learned a big lesson last year, being in Budapest for Christmas. Nearly all of the restaurants were closed, except for very expensive places right by hotels. Museums were closed, also. This year, we planned to spend Christmas in a place where December 25 wasn’t a holiday for them. We spent Christmas in Ethiopia, since they celebrate Christmas in January, so the restaurants and stores were all open. We didn’t experience a ghost town this way. To be honest, though, our Christmas turned out to be pretty boring because of this plan, because there were no decorations or festive spirits. Check what holidays might be happening during your visit, and figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Print Your Documents, Maybe Duplicates

Depending on where you’re going, this is more or less important. In countries with less infrastructure or not as many tourists, don’t plan on just telling them where you’re staying / when you’re leaving. “You know every country requires these things be printed” from a border guard made me laugh. Most certainly every country doesn’t require it. If you’re going somewhere a little less traveled, print things. Maybe print 2 copies, so you have 1 to show on arrival and another to show on the way out. Usually, your hotel will print visas, copies of passports, and other essential documents like these for free.

The fireplace in our Cappadocia cave hotel was nice, but the shower and the wifi were awful.

Enjoy The Good Stuff When You Have It When Traveling The World

If you’re staying at a nice place, enjoy the features and make use of them. We stayed at some really nice hotels, and we also stayed at some places with weak showers and bad internet. If you’re the type of person whose hair needs a lot of care, take advantage of a good shower to lather-rinse-repeat-condition. Maybe the next place will have weak shower pressure or hot water that runs out quickly. It sounds corny, but we learned to enjoy the good things when we had them, knowing that some of the places in our itinerary would be unpredictable. Download those work emails, shave, condition your hair, have the hotel print documents, and whatever else you need to do before you lose access to it. Also, if those little bottles of toiletries in your hotel room are good, take them with you! If the toiletries at your next place suck (or your Airbnb doesn’t provide them), you’ll be glad you brought these.

Be Careful About Street Food And Tap Water

This is something everyone should check before traveling anywhere, and it’s worth repeating. Just because the locals are eating from a food cart at the side of the road doesn’t mean you should. They’ve been exposed to germs you haven’t. Check the sanitary conditions, whether the food is still piping hot, etc. If the foods aren’t cooked, be careful about eating things that could’ve been washed in dirty water, like a raw salad or fruits that you can’t peel.

That brings us to water. In some places, you shouldn’t even brush your teeth with the tap water. When we were in Liberia, they told us a few times to use bottled water even for brushing our teeth. We don’t have the immunity built up that locals do. This also applies to ice in your drink, whether it’s ice cubes or crushed in a blender for your daiquiri. If “bottled water only” is the rule, watch out for ice. What I learned from traveling is that ice is not your friend.

What I Learned From Traveling the World – Final Thoughts

This is what I learned from traveling the world with my wife for the past 11 weeks. There are definitely things we’d do differently if doing it again. Hopefully, these can help us for the future and might help others who are considering a long-term trip. Above all, flexibility is key on a long-term trip. What you thought the trip would look like before starting and what it looks like multiple weeks later won’t be the same. There will be surprises and changes. Decide in advance to be OK with that.

 

Ryan S
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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24 COMMENTS

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24 COMMENTS

  1. Yes great article, sounds like it was a lot of fun! Over the years of living abroad, and using one place as a main hub to travel to other places, especially around Asia, I’ve definitely learned to pack lighter, carry less clothes, and things you think you’ll use but never end up using. What I would do is pack in cubes and at the end of the trip, there were definitely some things that were never taken out of the cube, so I knew what I would use and what I wouldn’t.

    Asia especially has great laundromats, though with the difference in water, and quality of soap etc, some clothes got ruined along the way. rule of thumb now, I always try to bring two good pair of shoes, that will last, and clothes only for 2 weeks, no matter how long I’m away, because I will end up washing.

    Also lived in India for awhile, and never had problems with not sealed water. And yes build up your tolerance! We ate on the street everywhere. Just go to crowded places, the food is fresh and clean. And in places like Thailand where I knew we would be staying for more than a year, we stayed a week in a nice hotel, drank the tap water everyday, and lets just say our systems worked itself out (thank goodness for the nice bathroom!) but now totally used to it and don’t need to worry!

    • Jen – good point about identifying items you didn’t touch and then not bringing those next time. I like that one!

  2. I enjoyed your insight. I learned by trial and error a couple of those things already. But I learned a few new things also. Thank you.

    If you have the time, I’d really love to hear more about traveling to Cappadocia (especially during covid). I want to go (Cappadocia and Istanbul) but not sure what it is like there now. I’m hoping I’m not the only one interested in this information so a trip report would be a great post on MTM (the more details the better for those of us wanting to go: how to get there; how to get around; covid circumstances). Please consider it.

  3. A recent AA flight to London changed 3 times in the last 10 days, the last time 4 days before. All of my other flights were the same as I booked 5 weeks prior. It’s all a crapshoot right now. One other hot tip for folks is check your flights periodically. We booked 5 weeks in advance and AA never contacted us when our flights were simply cancelled, multiple times. A friend recently used Avianca miles and her ticket had one segment cancelled, with no communication from Avianca nor the partner airline. You don’t want to show up at the airport expecting your flight is automatically a go.

  4. Great article. I have learned many of these lessons myself during previous trips. Over the years my pack/suitcase has gotten smaller and smaller as I learned just how much I don’t have to pack!

    • I’m telling people what I learned from a trip and would do differently. Everyone makes their own decisions about travel.

  5. One trick my wife and I learned is when going to a country with cheap or desirable clothes, bring somewhat ratty clothing to leave behind.

    I’ve had street food in a number of countries in Asia and never had any issues. I’d say that different people have different tolerances and it’s not so much a one size fits all of situation.

    • I think the person and the food present a lot of variables, you’re right. I spent a month in India backpacking a few years ago and ate a ton of street food. However, I ate one thing from a vendor at a train station in China and was destroyed for 3 days.
      For the first part, you wear old stuff you’re about to get rid of, and then you buy new stuff there/leave behind the old stuff?

      • Exactly. The old stuff is about ready for retirement anyway. My wife gets rid of tons of old clothes every time we go to Bali, since clothes there are so cheap. Sorry I was unclear. It’s tougher putting messages together on my phone than my computer.

      • I wear old badly worn clothes I then discard or give away. This lightens my load as the trip proceeds. My total suitcase weight starts around 35 pounds. Ends about the same because of wine or gifts I add before flying back.

  6. I have used bottled water in India to drink, brush teeth and wash upper face (eyelids/forehead). Some say to examine the bottle carefully to insure it is not a reused bottle refilled with tap water. Better yet, bring water to India, which I did. I brought about 10 liters, which was not enough until I reallocated the self imported water for drinking and brushing teeth and used locally sourced bottled water for upper face washing. To save on water for brushing teeth, I swished in it and drank it to reduce the amount of water used solely for drinking.

    On one trip to India, I was self sufficient in food and water. I used the maximum checked baggage allowance going to India for food and water and left with just carry on.

  7. Excellent hints for extended travel during a pandemic. I have taken several extended trips in the last four decades, but have not had to consider how this current situation can really make traveling much more challenging! Some of your suggestions are relevant to any kind of longer itinerary, even without the pandemic factored in. But, I especially think the point about only booking travel arrangements a week at a time is so much more crucial right now.

    • Our flight from Africa over to South America was the biggest “stop booking in advance” lesson. We booked with KrisFlyer and had to change it 4 times due to canceled flight, canceled flight, decision avoid South Africa because we saw the writing on the wall (countries would block people who were in South AFrica recently) and need to change the date.

      • That is some cold water! I wasn’t certified when I went there as a teenager but I didn’t see much that looked all that scenic for scuba diving. Was it to interact with the sea lions?

        • It’s weird how there are a few warm currents circulating into the mostly cold water. Our goal was to see hammerheads, which we did. Even with 5mm suits and a rash guard, it was cold!

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